Game to Improve Executive Functioning
Neurodivergent individuals often struggle with executive functioning, because their path to the same destination looks different from the path neurotypical individuals may go through.
Instead of trying to get from Point A to Point C, they’re trying to get from Point A to Point Z in alphabet soup.
They know they need to shower, but showering involves more than undressing, turning on the water, bathing, drying off, and getting dressed.
Additional steps for neurodivergent individuals include preparation for the sensory input, assessing energy levels, determining whether to do the bare minimum to get out, considering the sensory input of tasks after the shower, and trying to decide if it’s even worth it.
They’re not depressed, they’re just trying to determine whether hygiene is worth compromising their sensory needs and energy levels. Unfortunately, the benefits of hygiene or other task completions are outweighed by current needs, also known as stressors.
Autistic and similarly neurodivergent individuals may have a list to help them through this, but need motivation instead of just a list to do. That’s where gamifying executive functioning comes in.
Brainstorm Rewards for Completing Executive Function Tasks
Rewarding good behavior with food encourages disordered eating, which neurodivergent individuals are more susceptible to develop than their peers.
Create rewards that don’t involve food or spending a lot of money, but would not disrupt your self-care routine.
For example, I meticulously care for my nails every week and paint them every couple of weeks, to prevent my nail biting.
Rewarding myself with nail care would not work, because it’s something I need to do to avoid finger infections.
Potential rewards for an autistic person may include:
- freedom to spend 5-10 on special interest with snacks on standy, no judgment
- spending up to $5 towards anything (food is OK)
- small travel trip
- time off from tasks/chores
- choosing a fidget toy from a bin
- building a charm bracelet
- choosing which game/movie night the family does
Executive Functioning Bingo
Create a list of 24 things that need to be done by the end of the week. Or, a list of 24 things that could be done in a day, but would not disrupt your life if you didn’t complete them.
Add them into a blank bingo board.
Create two types of rewards:
- Completing a BINGO
- Completing a blackout
Sticker Chart to Reward Task Completion
Each chore or task is equated to 1-3 stickers depending on difficulty level. It is important to work with your child to determine difficulty levels without judgment.
If making the bed is easy some days, but difficult others, make it two stickers.
Oral hygiene has a lot of sensory aspects, so it should be 2-3 stickers if it’s something they struggle with.
Tasks that are easy to you personally may be excruciatingly difficult for your child. It’s not laziness; it’s unseen obstacles and unmet needs.
Use the stickers as currency and apply certain prizes to each milestone, such as:
- 5 stickers – small free prize
- 10 stickers – medium free prize
- 25 stickers – large free prize, e.g. picking movie for family night
- 50 stickers – exciting prize
- 100 stickers – super EXCITING prize they really want
As they accumulate more stickers instead of spending them, switch up the prizes or add new price points.
Create Task Menus for Executive Functions
Instead of chore lists, create task menus: lists of things you can do each day/week that Future You will be grateful for. Instead of to-do lists, menus contain items that can be done and remove guilty feelings accompanied by the shame of not having completed an entire checklist.
Checklists may feel overwhelming, so menus help.
Habitica App for Executive Functioning
Older neurodivergent individuals who struggle with executive dysfunction may benefit from apps that gamify executive functioning like a role-playing game.
Habitica gamifies executive functioning and general to-do lists by rewarding points to players for task completion based on selected difficulty and completing task quests. Players are also rewarded for signing in. Friends can form Guilds or Parties for free, to help motivate each other to complete quests.
While players can alter their points from their account settings to have more currency in the game, this is discouraged by Habitica members overall because the only one it harms the most is the player themselves.
Once certain tasks become mindless habits, or there is enough of a streak, the task does not need to be rewarded so highly. All rewards and milestones should fluctuate based on current needs, routine and habits.
If keeping dirty clothes in a laundry basket is no longer a struggle, remove it from the task menu and add it back when your neurodivergent child starts slipping again.
Forming a new habit can take anywhere from 18-254 days. In neurodivergent individuals, all habits can go out the window when they’re burnt out, overwhelmed or low in energy. Remain patient, keep rewarding. It’s okay if they are only able to complete certain tasks when there are rewards involved.
Izzy Lively is an autistic adult who gamifies executive functioning via task menus and visual stimming (tidy aesthetic).